Support C4SS with Mikhail Bakunin’s “What is Authority?”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of Mikhail Bakunin’s “What is Authority?” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with Mikhail Bakunin’s “What is Authority?


$1.00 for the first copy. $0.75 for every additional copy.

The short fragment reprinted in this booklet, one of the most famous passages from Bakunin’s pen, is a widely quoted excerpt from his best-known essay, God and the State, which was itself an excerpt, written as Part II of a much longer planned book, to be entitled The Knouto-Germanic Empire. The incomplete manuscript was dis­covered in Bakun­in’s papers after his death, by his close friends and fellow anarchists Carlo Cafiero and Élisée Reclus, who translated the text into French and published what they could in 1882. English translations were later circulated by Anarchist publishers in the U.S. and England, including Benjamin Tucker, Henry Seymour and Emma Goldman.

“It is the characteristic of privilege and of every privi­leg­ed position to kill the mind and heart of men. The privi­leg­ed man, whether practically or economically, is a man de­prav­ed in mind and heart. That is a social law which admits of no exception, and is as applicable to entire nations as to clas­s­es, corporations and individuals. It is the law of equality, the supreme condition of liberty and humanity. . . . Con­sequ­ent­ly, no external legislation and no author­ity — one, for that matter, being inseparable from the other, and both tending to the servitude of society and the de­grad­at­ion of the legislators themselves. . . .”

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the author­ity of the bootmakers; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their know­ledge, re­ser­v­ing always my in­con­test­able right of criticism and censure. But I recognise no infall­ible authority; I have no absolute faith in any per­son. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my under­takings; it would im­med­iately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others. . . .”

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin (1814–1876) was a Russian-born anarchist revolutionary, speaker, traveler and phi­l­o­sopher. Born into a noble family in Prya­mukh­ino, he was later stripped of his titles, imprisoned, condemned at differ­ent times to death, to life imprisonment, to hard labor, and exiled from France, Prussia, Saxony, Austria, Russia, and the First International for his radical speeches and rev­ol­ut­ion­ary activities. One of the founders of collect­iv­ist anarchism, a leading theorist of liber­tarian social­ism, a friend and student of Proudhon, an enemy of Marx and a fierce critic of auth­or­i­tar­ian social­ism, Bakunin was in­volved in revolution­ary up­ris­ings in Paris, Prague, Leipzig, Dresden, and Lyon. An enor­m­ous influence on radicals throughout Russia, Eur­ope, and the Americas, he and his comrades in the anarchist faction of the Inter­nat­ion­al Working Men’s Association (1868–1872) are often credited as the principle founders of the social anarchist move­ment. Although constantly writing fiery pam­ph­lets, letters, short works and radical jour­nals, Bakunin never completed his ambitious plans for longer works on Anarchist philosophy, often re­mark­ing to his friends, “My life is but a fragment.”

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